Even in a year of unprecedented moments, today’s swearing-in of Vice President Kamala Harris stands out. The first woman, the first Black woman and the first woman of South Asian descent to be elected to the second-highest office in the nation, Harris’ inauguration is both a concrete and symbolic victory for so many Americans.
MLK50: Justice Through Journalism asked Memphis Black women – including elected officials, community activists, mothers, daughters and sorority members (Harris is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.) – what today means to them.
“This is an important time in America, when a woman of color, a Black woman, gets to stand in leadership – the second most powerful position — to help guide this nation. She’ll be scorned, targeted and ridiculed because of her ethnicity, but I’ll be proud and one of her biggest supporters. It’s a mammoth job, being Black and Indian-American, and a woman. But, they will quickly see what she brings to the table. I see her bringing the table and all the chairs around it. I imagine Kamara Harris will shine far beyond expectation…
“As I watched the coverage of the storm on the Capitol, I was thinking of the inauguration and how there was no way we would be able to be there to observe in person. I was there for Barack Obama’s historic inauguration and wanted to be there for hers too. You can’t get these moments back. But I also thought, a change is gonna come, oh yes it is!”
—Faith Morris, chief marketing and external affairs officer at the National Civil Rights Museum
“It means a great deal that the United States is catching up to the rest of the world by trusting accomplishments of women’s leadership in upholding democracy. … Her inauguration reveals that most of America wants to live in a country where leadership cares about their well-being and has a path for moving forward from an intensely chaotic and fretful 2020. I do look forward to the work that begins after the ceremony has taken place.”
—Dorian Spears, chief partnerships officer at Momentum Nonprofit Partners
“I have mixed feelings. It is a tremendous accomplishment for a Black and Indian woman and HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) graduate to be the vice president of the United States. I’m proud. I’m also realistic. There is only so much she can do, and I’m not entirely sure of what she really wants to accomplish and for whom. I also worry for her safety…
“My nephew’s first president was Black. My new niece’s first vice president will be a Black and Indian woman. It’s a given for them that these things are possible. I try to imagine what might have been different for me if I were raised with that experience. Even now I’m stunned that I was alive when we elected a Black president, and I continue to be amazed that we will have Kamala Harris as VP.”
— Adriane Johnson-Williams, founder and principal, Standpoint Consulting, LLC
“I am excited for and proud of Kamala Harris to be the first Black vice president, first woman vice president and first South Asian vice president. As a Black woman and a member of AKA, this is pivotal to watch and empowering. I am also cautious of what changes the Biden administration may enact. So I celebrate Kamala’s success and remain watchful and outspoken about the persistence of white supremacy in our country no matter who is in power. Also the Secret Service better keep that woman safe.”
—Tami Sawyer, Shelby County Commissioner
“It’s certainly a source of inspiration and aspiration. Representation is extremely important. I always saw Black women attorneys around me growing up, so I knew it was possible. That had a great impact on the amount of confidence I had in what I could achieve.”
— Kamilah Turner, attorney
“I’m super excited. I’ll have my pearls and Chucks on; [my family] will have some type of Biden/Harris swag on… Kamala Harris is such a shining example to little girls and little girls of color everywhere that anything is possible, and I’m looking forward to seeing some of the dynamic leadership plans coming out of D.C., and also looking at some of the amazing young people that this administration has surrounded themselves with. So we’ll see – the sky’s the limit. I’m super excited though; we’ll have our champagne ready.”
— Raumesh Akbari, Democratic state senator, Memphis
“Black women have been the backbone of the Democratic Party while repeatedly being told to wait our turns, stay in the kitchen, or otherwise be overlooked for our white counterparts. The fact that this country has been open-minded enough to create space for a Black woman to serve at this level is shocking, but appreciated…
“The system is not set up for Black women to serve and lead. Any of us that do have had to endure ridiculous amounts of blood, sweat, and tears to do so. It did not come easy. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris has earned this. We have earned this. The possibility of this now becoming a reality opens up the doors for the next generation of leaders. I look forward to similar acceptances in the state of Tennessee, but we have still got much work to do.”
— Theryn C. Bond, community activist
“I must say I am terrified for her life, her womanhood, and her personhood. Conservative and racist Americans showed how they felt about Black leadership during the Obama administration. They also showed how they felt about Michelle Obama. I often felt like she was under more of a microscope than her husband. Harris not only has these inherited issues to navigate but adding misogynoir to that is something that cannot be ignored. In the wake of the Jan. 6th insurrection, her immediate safety is my first concern…
“I’m rooting for you, Black woman, to win, to defeat the odds, to shut the mouths of the naysayers, to amend the issues where critique and pushback has been given by our people. You have been called for such a time as this. And I am proud to see another woman of African descent soar.”
— Cherisse Scott, CEO and founder, SisterReach
Hannah Grabenstein is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. Email her at email@example.com
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